I am officially at Woods Hole now, which I guess means it’s time to bid farewell to the Arctic as far as blog posts go.

We left Axel Heiberg on one of the windiest days I’ve ever seen.  Upper Camp, where we had been staying further north on the island, was experiencing some nasty cloudy weather, so we took a gamble and hiked a few miles south, in the hopes that the plane would have a better chance of landing there.  The clouds may have actually been better, given the incredible gusts ripping through Lower Camp, and unpredictably changing directions every few minutes.  If I unzipped my jacket and held its edges out like sails, the wind literally lifted me off my feet.

I’d secretly been hoping it wouldn’t be able to land, but in some crazy feat of expert piloting, the twin-otter managed to touch down at Lower Camp, after circling a few times to gauge the wind.

We were splashed with jet fuel as the pilots tried to fill up the twin-otter’s tank in the blustering wind.  In between gusts, I overheard the pilot say, “Young pilots think they’re going to live forever.  Me?  I’ve already lived forever.”

I wasn’t sure what exactly that implied for the flight ahead of us, but I guessed correctly that it was going to be a bumpy ride.  As we strapped down our cargo and began to buckle ourselves in, the co-pilot turned around and warned us:

Make sure you buckle those tight.  I mean … TIGHT.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long after the twin-otter took off from the tundra that we hit some serious turbulence.  We were actually weightless at one point, with all our jackets, cameras, and cargo floating right at eye-level.  I was videotaping the view out the window when it happened.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think fast enough to catch the floating stuff on camera, but it’s a fun video to watch nonetheless:

I get so wistful watching that landscape disappear below the plane.  I can’t wait to go back.  I’m addicted to the Arctic.

Looking out the window of the plane yesterday, I was ecstatic when I realized that no, that’s not a very lost sailboat on the water down there.  No, indeed, ladies and gentlemen…

IT’S A HUGE HONKIN’ CHUNK OF FLOATING ICE

And it is not alone.

Yes, folks, welcome to the Arctic.  Resolute Bay, specifically.  We arrived here yesterday after roughly seven hours of flights up from Ottawa.  This will be our last stop before hopping a twin-otter plane to Axel Heiberg Island, two hours even further north of here. 

The word barren, while accurate, does not do justice to the Arctic.  It is starkly beautiful.

Sleeping in the tent last night was less than cozy (note to self: wear a hat to bed), but I am still excited out of my mind to be here.  We are hopefully flying to Axel in half an hour, but the fog may postpone our departure.  Visibility is maybe 200 meters at most.  Not prime flying weather.

It’s quite a hike from our camp at Axel to the nearest internet access, so this may be the last you hear from me for a while.  Stay tuned…

Out in the canyons we talked about two topics: poop and politics.

Before we left Salt Lake City, no one had dared to ask how exactly we would take care of our…er … bodily needs in the wilderness. As we sat in Quality Inn conference room, we talked about most of the other aspects of the trip: the technical challenges we’d encounter, what we needed to pack and our goals as a team. But somehow we failed to ask the most basic of questions: sans civilization how exactly does one take a dump?

Perhaps we were unwilling because long ago our toddler selves had learned to trust the toilet and had not considered the possibility that one day our ivory friend, along with all of his plumbing accoutrements, would desert us.

As we drove south from Salt Lake to Canyon Country, our radio listening options steadily narrowed until we were left with only two…country and Mormon religious broadcast. I think it was at that point we turned off the radio and decided we were willing to let go of some of the trappings of civilization ahead of schedule.

As the road narrowed and traffic thinned out, free range plains gave way to deeply carved canyons and desert scrub. It also started to rain. Rain in the desert? Yes.

We put up our tents and took refuge from the whipping winds in the van. We gobbeled up our final packed meal–a variety of Whole Foods pastas and rotisserie chicken—and bid farewell to processed foods and purified water. From then on, everything we ate we carried on our backs and whatever water we drank came from rain puddles.

The next morning we learned how to cook with our small, gas-fired stoves and were introduced to our rations, which were primarily grains, nuts and lots and lots of butter. For the rest of the trip we ate like I imagine farmers still do: taking in as much as we could to get us through the day. Lots of carbs, lots of fats and still never enough.

It was about this time, as our bowels stirred from two meals out in the wilderness, that we were introduced to the trowel, the small shovel we would use to dig the six-inch-deep holes into which we would deposit our deposits. Feet shifted nervously about and glances were placed downward. “Believe me,” Allison said, “it’s gonna be one of your favorite things to talk about. You’ll even grow to like smooth stones.”

And it was. Trowelling, along with the do-you-think-Barack-will-win-this-state-in-November game came to occupy most of our conversations. There was something liberating about it. More than the rappels, the pack passes and rock climbs there was something about trowelling that made our subconsciouses dance and let out our inner infants: “Anywhere? Anytime? Yipppee!!!”

It was one of the most basic freedoms but it was also one of the most satisfying, the one that reminded me that I could go anywhere and be myself in the wild. And the wild was as empty as it was beautiful. We didn’t see a soul that wasn’t part of our party for ten days. So when the wind whipped across the mesas or we screamed as we swam through the icy water of the narrows, we knew we were the only ones who heard a thing. It was just us out there. Just us.